Picks and Pans Review: New Jack City
Two factors put this film a few cuts above most drug war shoot-'em-ups.
One is Snipes, icily ruthless as leader of a New York City gang out to control the crack cocaine market. His performance ranks with Edward G. Robinson in Little Caesar, Paul Muni in Scarface or Marlon Brando in The Godfather, among film mob bosses.
The other intriguing aspect of the movie is its strident ideological stand, voiced not only in what seems like an archaic final defeat of the bad guys, but also in the language of its epilogue: "If we in America don't confront the problem of crack cocaine and other drugs realistically—without empty slogans and promises but by examining what motors the human soul on the course of spiritual self-destruction—then the New Jack City shall continue to thrive, and we shall forever be doomed to despair in the shadows of its demonic skyline."
First-time feature director Mario Van Peebles made some bad casting decisions, such as using rapper Ice-T as the cop who's after Snipes; when he is trying to shake with rage, Ice-T is so artificial you can almost hear him saying to himself "Tremble-tremble-tremble." Judd (Relentless) Nelson is equally unconvincing as Ice-T's partner, a supposed tough guy whose dark glasses and goatee only make him look like one of the Chipmunks doing a beatnik bit.
There's stronger support from Saturday Night Live's Chris Rock, an edgy junkie, and from Allen (Rooftops) Money as Snipes's at times morally troubled top assistant.
The script, by Village Voice writer Barry Michael Cooper and Thomas Lee (The Last of the Finest) Wright, is in Stiltese. Nelson has this speech: "This whole drug thing: It's not a black thing. It's not a white thing. It's a death thing."
Just as things start to slip away, Van Peebles gets back to Snipes, pursuing money and pleasure with the unconcerned determination of a stalking crocodile. And if the film's ending is foolish, it also reflects real courage—an ending that says sometimes the hippest thing around is moral outrage. (R)